An overhaul of Michigan’s auto insurance system topped the list of new laws in 2019.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and lawmakers also enacted a long-sought criminal justice measure and mostly finalized a budget after their months-long impasse that included an unprecedented amount of line-item vetoes. The Democratic governor signed 178 bills in the first year of divided government since 2010. It was far fewer than the 690 enacted in 2018, when the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a flurry of measures before Gov. Rick Snyder left office.
The top laws of the year:
Starting this July, drivers will be able to forego what has been mandatory, unlimited personal injury protection coverage in a state with the country’s most expensive auto insurance premiums. Those who still want it will pay $100 a vehicle in the first year to reimburse insurers for expenses related to catastrophic crash injuries, less than the record-high $220 now assessed. Insurers will be required for eight years to reduce, on average, the PIP portion of policies. Beginning in July 2021, medical fees will be capped for health providers treating crash victims.
Gamblers will be able to legally place sports bets and play casino games online. In-person sports wagers may be allowed first at casinos in Detroit, with online options following later. The timeline is uncertain, as state regulators must still write licensing rules. Some legislators hope the additional gambling options are available as soon as March. Michigan is the 20th state to legalize sports betting and the fifth to permit poker and other games to be played on the internet.
‘RAISE THE AGE’
Starting in October 2021, the age at which offenders are treated as adults in the criminal justice system will rise from 17 to 18. Only three states will still automatically consider 17-year-olds as adults in criminal cases. Michigan prosecutors could still try younger offenders as adults for violent crimes such as murder.
Lost amid the budget stalemate, which centered on a still-unresolved fight over raising taxes for road repairs, was an agreement to spend $120 million to protect drinking water, a $105 million boost. The money accounts for 20% of a substantially bigger budget for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. It will help to implement tougher lead-in-water rules, address contamination from chemicals known collectively as PFAS and give low-interest loans for infrastructure projects.
Many out-of-state websites that facilitate independent sales in Michigan will have to collect and remit the state’s 6% sales tax, generating nearly $100 million annually — mostly for public schools.
Able-bodied adults who qualify for medical insurance through the state’s Medicaid expansion program, Healthy Michigan, will see eased monthly reporting rules when work requirements take effect this month. Whitmer and lawmakers exempted people from reporting if the state can verify their compliance through other data. People will have a month to verify their compliance, instead of 10 days under the original 2018 law. There also will be a grace period. The workforce engagement requirements are being challenged in federal court.
By 2025, egg-laying hens must be housed in cage-free areas. Michigan is the fifth state with such a law. Large restaurant and grocery chains such as McDonald’s, Walmart and Kroger have committed to buying only eggs from cage-free farms by 2025.
Stores are prohibited from selling electronic cigarettes with nicotine to minors, who also are barred from using the products. The federal government prohibits such sales, but Michigan was among just two states without its own restrictions. Whitmer has since tried to ban the sale of flavored vaping products to adults, but her administration’s emergency rules were blocked by a judge.
As of Wednesday, law enforcement is prohibited from permanently taking ownership of cash and other property seized in drug cases unless there is a criminal conviction or the assets are worth more than $50,000. The laws target civil asset forfeiture, a practice that critics say is abused to fund police activities.
Michigan’s 10,000 licensed professional counselors can continue diagnosing mental disorders and using psychotherapy techniques under a law that was enacted amid concerns that their ability to work would be harmed by state rule changes.
Schools did not have to reschedule up to four snow days that occurred during an arctic deep freeze. Many K-12 districts had reached or exceeded the maximum number of days canceled for emergencies — 9 — but students caught a break.
Other new laws made it a state-level crime to steal mail, delayed a key change in Michigan’s evaluation system for teachers and allocated $5 million to support outreach and preparation for citizen participation in the 2020 Census. Whitmer also signed legislation to reinstate a property tax exemption for residents who have solar panels and to let more government entities, including libraries and universities, buy and administer drugs that reverse opioid overdoses.